It's the perfect store! Great products, reasonable prices, friendly staff. You can wander around as much as you like, examining the furniture and products. They sell just about everything for your home, even food! Speaking of food, there's even a restaurant there, prices are great! Invented in Sweden, known as one of the friendliest, most chill places on earth!
It's wonderful... right?
It looks like a great place, but remember, long before the Swedes were laid back and friendly, they were feared throughout the civilized world as Viking raiders, fierce warriors and conquerors. IKEA may seem peaceful enough, but you have to be on your guard there - it's a store, which has but one purpose - to separate you from your money. Shopping there, like shopping anywhere, is a battle, a battle of wits, and you are outnumbered, fighting on their turf. As in any battle, you can still win by using superior tactics, acting in ways the enemy doesn't expect, and proper intelligence (information).
Don't let IKEA get the best of you. I will show you some tips and tricks that can save you money and time, and get better furniture from the encounter. Fix bayonets and sally forth!
Step 1: Maneuver on Your Terms, Not Theirs
One thing that bugs me about IKEA that I don't see in other stores, even furniture stores, is that the store is laid out as kind of a maze. In Walmart, or any large supermarket or warehouse store, the products are laid out in islands or rows of shelves, with clear pathways between them, and signs hanging above that can be read from far away. In Walmart, if you need dishes, you can walk in a straight line, scanning the whole store as you go, until you see a sign saying "Kitchen/Dining", then go straight to it.
At IKEA, they hand you a map (a MAP?!) as if you are Indiana Jones trying to find a hidden temple. If you need to get to something across the store, too bad - you have to run the gauntlet of all the departments in between. Heck, the day I was there, they were remodeling some of the kitchen displays, so much of that department was blocked off, and getting to the next department (office chairs) was nigh impossible. I had to go to a different department in another corner of the store and backtrack (go against the traffic flow) to find the office furniture section.
One thing they have done is leave little gaps in the maze walls every so often. To their credit, the gaps are labelled "Shortcut" and they say which departments the shortcut leads to, but these shortcuts are often hard to find. Seek out the shortcuts on your map, and use them to get to areas of the store directly, without having to meander through an entire store. Save time!
Step 2: Go Directly to the Bargain Section
IKEA has their share of returns, demos, damaged furniture, and the like. They sell them at a discount, but they put these items in a section right next to the checkout, so by the time you get to it, you have probably picked out some furniture and are too busy getting ready to pay that you don't even notice it.
Superior tactics! Use the map and the shortcuts to go to this area first, and see what kind of deals are available. You may see something there that has some damage, but with a little TLC and elbow grease, you can get yourself a better product at a discount.
Also in this area, look for a bin labelled "Miscellaneous Hardware." It's full of extra little bits and bobs from various types of furniture. If you find that you are missing something from your purchase after you get home and start assembling it, instead of contacting Sweden for the part, go back to the store and see if they have it in the "Miscellaneous Hardware" bin. It sucks to pay an extra dollar for it, but you will save the time getting it delivered to you from Sweden (or China, or Neptune, or wherever IKEA furniture comes from). I'll get into my solution for missing hardware later.
Step 3: If You Must, Go to the Restaurant First
WHAT?! You went shopping for big-ticket items on an empty stomach? By golly, you won't last long in this skirmish, especially downstairs, where they have all the little knick-knacks, tchochkis, and doo-dads that no home is complete without. And guess where the restaurant is? Right after the checkout lines, of course. Those Vikings are going to pwn your Saxon hide...
Once again, use shortcuts to your advantage, and go eat first (even before going to the AS-IS section). Of course, you should have eaten at home, where you save your cash by doing the cooking yourself, but I'll stop talking now before I start to sound like your parents.
Step 4: Getting Your New Item Home
So, you've picked out your new desk or whatever. How in the world will you get it home? It's flat-pack furniture, so it's an un-assembled kit in a box, so the box is small (compared to the completed furniture, anyway) and heavy.
Can it fit in your car? And if you succeed in getting it to your place, how are you going to get that thing up the stairs to your 3rd floor apartment?
The answer - think outside the box!
Open the box up, and remove the individual furniture parts. Now, instead of one big awkward box to deal with, you have a lot of light bits you can arrange in your car. When you get it home, the stairway turns from being a powerlifting ordeal into a multiple trip, cardio workout as you carry a few parts up the stairs at a time.
You have to be careful with this, though - you may end up marring the furniture's finish if you handle things roughly. Bring a blanket or two with you to the store to wrap things up and protect them as you carry the parts around. Of course, this is particle-board, flat-pack furniture we are talking about here; after you move a few times, that thing is going to be scratched up and maybe fall apart anyway. It's not exactly heirloom stuff, but we'll want it to last as long as possible.
Step 5: Tips for Assembly of Your New Masterpiece
I'm not going to get into detailed instructions for building something. IKEA has instructions that are easy to read, and their website has videos you can watch, and I'm sure Youtube and Instructables will have even more instructions.
I just want to give you a few tips that I used that may make things work better for you.
First, get a tray or a clean area on your floor, and empty out the small bags of parts (the screws, pegs, twist-loks, etc.), and sort the parts into piles. Sorry for going all James-May on you, but this won't take long and will make things a lot easier as you build. It will also let you make sure that you have enough of everything and aren't missing any bits.
In my opinion, IKEA (and other manufacturers like them) should put a few spares of everything into the bags, and also include a little postage-paid, self-addressed envelope with the furniture. After you've completed the assembly, you can stick the extra parts into this envelope and mail them back to IKEA. This would lead to a lot more customer satisfaction and fewer headaches at the store getting new parts or returning something that won't go together after a part is broken.
IKEA's instructions also tell you which tools you need. However, I think they left out a few. You should have:
1. A powered screwdriver or a drill with a screwdriver bit. What century are we in, anyway? Does anybody still use a screwdriver? (for screws, anyway; a screwdriver is great for opening cans of paint). If you're using a drill, keep the speed slow so that you don't strip threads. This is particle board, remember.
2. Carpenter's glue. Those screws and pegs won't stay tight forever, and adding glue to the pegs and along the edges of panels will keep bookshelves strong and drawers from falling apart for years to come.
3. A pocketknife, for undoing packaging and other little cutting tasks.
4. A hardcover, sturdy book that you don't or won't read anymore. What kind of tool is this? Well, those furniture panels, which are held together with pegs, sometimes need some coaxing to fit snugly together, preferably with a hammer. Instead of hitting the panels with the hammer, place a sturdy book on the panel and hit the book instead. It will save the finish.
Step 6: One More Thing I Wish They Did
The panels have pre-drilled holes in them for fixtures, and they usually have a label printed on them somewhere (like "PART B") on an edge or inside are which is unnoticeable.
Would it kill IKEA to label the holes, too? I know the instructions are about as easy as humanly possible, but some of those instructional diagrams are kind of small and hard to make out. Labeling the holes with either printing or some sort of sticker would really make assembly a lot less confusing. Are you listening to me, IKEA?
Well, that's all the tips (and gripes) I have for now. Remember, I'm pulling for you. We're all in this together. Farväll!